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Downsizing Your Story: How Much is Too Much?

JuJu

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As a writer, it's hard to stop writing things.

 

I've been writing since the day I realized that stringing letters together made coherent sentences (sometimes). I love writing. I love writing fanfiction, which accounts for 80% of all my day-to-day word based activities. I love writing my own stories, telling the depths of my imagination through a medium that others can see.

 

The problem lies with turning writing into storytelling.

 

Not that writing isn't storytelling already! It's just when it stops becoming words on paper (internet paper?) and becomes something visual as well as wordy. See, the thing is that I, as a writer, am used to having to give large amounts of descriptive clues and context to my stories. Naturally, people can't enjoy a story or relate to a character if they don't know what said character looks like, or sounds like, etc. etc. etc. But with video games, you see them. You see their world, their characteristics--heck, my game even has voice acting, so you know what they sound like!

 

So I find myself having to downsize the script for the game. A lot. Compared to the story itself, the script is bare bones. But here's my problem: how bare bone is TOO bare bone? I wish that it would be easier to tell this sort of thing! You'd think that having visual aids would make this job easier, but it's becoming harder. I don't know how little is too little. How much will the players be able to gain from context of the world around them in the game? How much do I need to tell them myself through dialogue? I hate games that feed you every mystery with a baby spoon, but I don't want to make my own game too hard. Sure, I know how to beat it, but will the players?

 

Has anyone else had this problem? Any friendly advice?



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From one writer to another, I will tell you this much: it's less about the directions and more about the intent. From what I can tell, your issue is balancing too little information or having too much information. The only real solution is to have someone else playtest what you have (preferably a good number of people), and collect data based on what information was actually needed to progress.

 

That's just for directing your players - if you wanted to focus on exploration, then you don't even need to drop that many hints: just give them an objective, and make them look for it themselves. As long as you build up a fairly interesting world, that shouldn't take away from the script or anything. 

 

I also know that it sucks getting rid of all the information you put in the script (assuming you wrote it already), so why not disperse it amongst different parts of the game? Maybe this would make your world richer in the process.

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I'm not experienced in writing (at all) but I think the advice I will gave you should still apply . Just try and see how it goes . Ask other people what they feel and do something better next time .

 

I have a project for a battle system , I think the core idea should work but there is so many stuff I'm not sure about . I will make a prototype and see how it plays . You can do the same thing , make your game first,you can always add stuff if needed .

If it's a bad idea to start making a game without knowing where you are going , wanting to plan too much isn't good either . At some point, you need to actually start making your game. Maybe some constraints you haven't thought of yet will shape your story in new directions .

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Well, it's certainly possible to just go all out and just put in everything and still end up with a compelling story, but that works much better with a serial story like a webcomic or something, and not all authors can maintain the internal consistency needed or have the patience to work on a story for that long.

 

Lets look at two examples that you may have heard of. Homestuck and Undertale. Whatever you may think of the quality of either, it still makes for a good comparison. Both are actually quite similar in tons of ways, and have very strong links as the authors of both know each other and share many influences. The way they are written, their style of humor, and the use of language (minus the fact that Homestuck has no problem with blatant profanity and sexual humor and Undertale much more kid friendly) are really similar. Even their character driven nature and use of archetypal characters that are subverted in interesting ways is pretty similar.

 

The biggest and most pronounced difference though is their scope. Homestuck is thousands and thousands of pages long and can take some people weeks or months to read though. Undertale on the other hand is designed only to last a few hours, minus hunting for alternative paths and hidden lore. Homestuck has adventures that span multiple planets (indeed multiple universes), and Undertale is confined to a single cave system (and a pretty small one too as games go). Homestuck is designed to be a very very long story with many twists along the way, and Undertale was designed to be a fairly short game. Which approach is right? Neither really, they both work for what they are trying to do.

 

There are a few niggles to think of though. Homestuck is a webcomic (except when it isn't). The author has full control over the pacing and can decide what elements of the story to focus on at what time, and what elements to only touch on briefly. Homestuck is full of elements that, even when they might be plot important, are only really mentioned in passing, and also filled with ones that, even if they are relatively unimportant, are exposited in minute detail (Homestuck mostly gets away with a lot of this exposition because, and I know people will think me crazy for saying this, well written exposition is actually a joy to read and Homestuck is very well written).

 

Undertale meanwhile is a game, and games play by different rules. I still maintain games are at the very least troublesome for telling stories in general, but too many of some of my favorite stories are in game format so I can't write the medium off completely for storytelling. There are admittedly even a few advantages, and even Homestuck will occasionally break into game-like formats when it wants to slow down and let the reader absorb a bunch of story information at their own pace. No matter how tedious it can be to have to explore and look around for story bits, it can also be rewarding. At the same time, having too much busywork involved in understanding the story can make it seem tedious. At the same time, the gameplay will suffer if you force all that info down the player's throat. It becomes like, as egoraptor put it, "the longest page turn ever".

 

The best way of getting around this problem for games in my opinion? Don't think of it like telling a story, think of it like creating a world. Don't think about writing more and more text to explain everything, try and look at your game holistically and see how the gameplay, the graphics, the music, the maps, everything fits together into this world you made. Make your items be items that would logically exist in this world with it's history. Make your maps makes sense based on the backstory for the world you want to make. Don't focus on delivering backstory and exposition, focus on creating a world where evidence of that backstory can be found everywhere. You don't need to explain to the hero there was a war 50 years ago, or even have any NPCs talk about it, if enough clues are laying around. Just leave old weapons and armor that seem to fit the two sides of the war's styles in places, and have some graveyards with some dates and mentions of the cause of deaths maybe.

 

At least that's my opinion.

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From one writer to another, I will tell you this much: it's less about the directions and more about the intent. From what I can tell, your issue is balancing too little information or having too much information. The only real solution is to have someone else playtest what you have (preferably a good number of people), and collect data based on what information was actually needed to progress.

 

That's just for directing your players - if you wanted to focus on exploration, then you don't even need to drop that many hints: just give them an objective, and make them look for it themselves. As long as you build up a fairly interesting world, that shouldn't take away from the script or anything. 

 

I also know that it sucks getting rid of all the information you put in the script (assuming you wrote it already), so why not disperse it amongst different parts of the game? Maybe this would make your world richer in the process.

Yeah, I've been turning over the idea of playtesting in my head for a while, but I'm not sure if I want to release a small demo, or do a larger demo with a feeling more like a beta release. I'm probably overthinking it, but I'm sort of a stickler for being incredibly organized and wanting to know how and what I want to do before I actually go through with it.

 

As for dispersing the script, it's broken into 3 main parts (acts, I've called them in the scripts) and it's pretty evenly spaced (I hope). I'm sure playtesting could clear some of that up for me too. And I'm not expecting perfection, but more a balance of sorts, I suppose. I think I'm harder on myself more than anyone/thing else.

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I'm not experienced in writing (at all) but I think the advice I will gave you should still apply . Just try and see how it goes . Ask other people what they feel and do something better next time .

 

I have a project for a battle system , I think the core idea should work but there is so many stuff I'm not sure about . I will make a prototype and see how it plays . You can do the same thing , make your game first,you can always add stuff if needed .

 

If it's a bad idea to start making a game without knowing where you are going , wanting to plan too much isn't good either . At some point, you need to actually start making your game. Maybe some constraints you haven't thought of yet will shape your story in new directions .

Yeah, this game has been in development for almost a year now, I think? From conception to this point anyway. It's changed a lot from the beginning, and even now nothing is set in stone. So I'm pretty open to trying to give myself as little constraints as possible.

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Well, it's certainly possible to just go all out and just put in everything and still end up with a compelling story, but that works much better with a serial story like a webcomic or something, and not all authors can maintain the internal consistency needed or have the patience to work on a story for that long.

 

Lets look at two examples that you may have heard of. Homestuck and Undertale. Whatever you may think of the quality of either, it still makes for a good comparison. Both are actually quite similar in tons of ways, and have very strong links as the authors of both know each other and share many influences. The way they are written, their style of humor, and the use of language (minus the fact that Homestuck has no problem with blatant profanity and sexual humor and Undertale much more kid friendly) are really similar. Even their character driven nature and use of archetypal characters that are subverted in interesting ways is pretty similar.

 

The biggest and most pronounced difference though is their scope. Homestuck is thousands and thousands of pages long and can take some people weeks or months to read though. Undertale on the other hand is designed only to last a few hours, minus hunting for alternative paths and hidden lore. Homestuck has adventures that span multiple planets (indeed multiple universes), and Undertale is confined to a single cave system (and a pretty small one too as games go). Homestuck is designed to be a very very long story with many twists along the way, and Undertale was designed to be a fairly short game. Which approach is right? Neither really, they both work for what they are trying to do.

 

There are a few niggles to think of though. Homestuck is a webcomic (except when it isn't). The author has full control over the pacing and can decide what elements of the story to focus on at what time, and what elements to only touch on briefly. Homestuck is full of elements that, even when they might be plot important, are only really mentioned in passing, and also filled with ones that, even if they are relatively unimportant, are exposited in minute detail (Homestuck mostly gets away with a lot of this exposition because, and I know people will think me crazy for saying this, well written exposition is actually a joy to read and Homestuck is very well written).

 

Undertale meanwhile is a game, and games play by different rules. I still maintain games are at the very least troublesome for telling stories in general, but too many of some of my favorite stories are in game format so I can't write the medium off completely for storytelling. There are admittedly even a few advantages, and even Homestuck will occasionally break into game-like formats when it wants to slow down and let the reader absorb a bunch of story information at their own pace. No matter how tedious it can be to have to explore and look around for story bits, it can also be rewarding. At the same time, having too much busywork involved in understanding the story can make it seem tedious. At the same time, the gameplay will suffer if you force all that info down the player's throat. It becomes like, as

, "the longest page turn ever".

 

The best way of getting around this problem for games in my opinion? Don't think of it like telling a story, think of it like creating a world. Don't think about writing more and more text to explain everything, try and look at your game holistically and see how the gameplay, the graphics, the music, the maps, everything fits together into this world you made. Make your items be items that would logically exist in this world with it's history. Make your maps makes sense based on the backstory for the world you want to make. Don't focus on delivering backstory and exposition, focus on creating a world where evidence of that backstory can be found everywhere. You don't need to explain to the hero there was a war 50 years ago, or even have any NPCs talk about it, if enough clues are laying around. Just leave old weapons and armor that seem to fit the two sides of the war's styles in places, and have some graveyards with some dates and mentions of the cause of deaths maybe.

 

At least that's my opinion.

Very good advice! I do enjoy Undertale, though I honestly never got into Homestuck. (I also like Arin too, so... props to you for the reference).

 

On the whole, that's what I'm trying to do: make the world seem like something that you'd see in everyday life (in that world, at least). The 'world' is actually an island, so that does help when it comes to making maps and things, and I'm trying my hardest to keep as much in-depth backstory out of it as I can. I mean, you don't meet your friend and they just branch into this crazy long tale about something you both are supposed to be up to date on (my friends don't, anyway). But at the same time, I'm trying to reach that balance of too much and too little--I can't have my characters hate Witches without giving a solid, logical reason for them to. But at the same time, I don't want to have the Witches be full blown evil characters with no redeeming factor whatsoever, but to go into the Witches backstory would be too long, so how do I get this across without boring the players, etc. etc. etc.

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Very good advice! I do enjoy Undertale, though I honestly never got into Homestuck. (I also like Arin too, so... props to you for the reference).

 

On the whole, that's what I'm trying to do: make the world seem like something that you'd see in everyday life (in that world, at least). The 'world' is actually an island, so that does help when it comes to making maps and things, and I'm trying my hardest to keep as much in-depth backstory out of it as I can. I mean, you don't meet your friend and they just branch into this crazy long tale about something you both are supposed to be up to date on (my friends don't, anyway). But at the same time, I'm trying to reach that balance of too much and too little--I can't have my characters hate Witches without giving a solid, logical reason for them to. But at the same time, I don't want to have the Witches be full blown evil characters with no redeeming factor whatsoever, but to go into the Witches backstory would be too long, so how do I get this across without boring the players, etc. etc. etc.

Lately I have been watching a lot of this guy's stuff, and it really is impressive how he analyses and digs into game storylines, and picks up a lot of things that are never stated explicitly in the text. A lot of it may just be made up or wrong, but the point is there is a lot of detail that can come across and fit together which is never stated out right.

 

That said, it also might be fun to have complementary materiel, like short stories set in the same world to flesh it out too. It's up to you! If you like to write and like to make games, no reason you can't do both.

 

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Speaking as an author/game dev, much like yourself, I understand how difficult it can be. In my game, Aftermath: Gears of Hope, I had this HUGE backstory written for why everything was the way it was, who all of the characters were, what their lives were like, etc., etc., etc. I still have most of it in there, but you'd have to look through books, diaries, their vlogs, social media posts, etc. to learn it all. I mean, you can learn some by talking to them, but a person isn't gonna open up and give you their life story. However, I've found, if you give each NPC a bit of the information, then let the player piece it together. So as not to inadvertently make fun of a game, I'll use an example from AGoH. There's this one character that every other character hates. He's different, he's quiet, he's a loner and he has this feel about him that's just a little creepy, even though he's a genuinely nice guy who really REALLY needs a hug, a friend, a warm blanket and a snuggle. All of the other characters, when asked about him, will give you information and rumours about him. "I heard he's a serial killer." "He never takes off those sunglasses." "I bet he was in an insane asylum or something." Etc., etc., etc. However, if you befriend him, he'll open up to you a little and tell you a bit about himself, he'll accept your social media stuff and you can browse his posts and he'll grant you access to his house, where his journals are. The backstory is there and it'll take a long time to learn, but the player has access to it. The world's backstory is given a brief explanation in the beginning. If you ask the characters in the game about the world, they'll tell you about it. The books found throughout the game, journals and the in-game internet all have information, as well. Again, it's there and it'd take a long time to get through, but the player has access to it.

 

Alternatively, like in my game series, Nightwatch Nightmares and Candy Crusade Chronicles, you can split it into many games. The original NN fanfic had too much to put into one game, so I split it into a 3-part series with an optional 4th game that provides backstory to one of the characters. CCC basically just follows a group of teens who hunt ghosts and whatnot. Again, it has a big story.

 

So, I guess, my best two pieces of advice are to have it so the player has access to the information, but it's not just spat out at them in a current of backstory, or to separate it into a series, each game holding a good chunk of the backstory. It really depends on the game, though. I mean, Nightwatch Nightmares, for example, has logical stopping points, as the story occurred in three specific years (and a lot more, if you include the backstory one). Aftermath: Gears of Hope, on the other hand, has no logical way to be stopped, then continued in another game. It really, really depends on the game.

 

I hope this helped, in some way. :)

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Very good advice! I do enjoy Undertale, though I honestly never got into Homestuck. (I also like Arin too, so... props to you for the reference).

 

On the whole, that's what I'm trying to do: make the world seem like something that you'd see in everyday life (in that world, at least). The 'world' is actually an island, so that does help when it comes to making maps and things, and I'm trying my hardest to keep as much in-depth backstory out of it as I can. I mean, you don't meet your friend and they just branch into this crazy long tale about something you both are supposed to be up to date on (my friends don't, anyway). But at the same time, I'm trying to reach that balance of too much and too little--I can't have my characters hate Witches without giving a solid, logical reason for them to. But at the same time, I don't want to have the Witches be full blown evil characters with no redeeming factor whatsoever, but to go into the Witches backstory would be too long, so how do I get this across without boring the players, etc. etc. etc.

Lately I have been watching a lot of this guy's stuff, and it really is impressive how he analyses and digs into game storylines, and picks up a lot of things that are never stated explicitly in the text. A lot of it may just be made up or wrong, but the point is there is a lot of detail that can come across and fit together which is never stated out right.

 

That said, it also might be fun to have complementary materiel, like short stories set in the same world to flesh it out too. It's up to you! If you like to write and like to make games, no reason you can't do both.

 

 

 

I'll have to check him out! His channel looks interesting, anyway.

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Speaking as an author/game dev, much like yourself, I understand how difficult it can be. In my game, Aftermath: Gears of Hope, I had this HUGE backstory written for why everything was the way it was, who all of the characters were, what their lives were like, etc., etc., etc. I still have most of it in there, but you'd have to look through books, diaries, their vlogs, social media posts, etc. to learn it all. I mean, you can learn some by talking to them, but a person isn't gonna open up and give you their life story. However, I've found, if you give each NPC a bit of the information, then let the player piece it together. So as not to inadvertently make fun of a game, I'll use an example from AGoH. There's this one character that every other character hates. He's different, he's quiet, he's a loner and he has this feel about him that's just a little creepy, even though he's a genuinely nice guy who really REALLY needs a hug, a friend, a warm blanket and a snuggle. All of the other characters, when asked about him, will give you information and rumours about him. "I heard he's a serial killer." "He never takes off those sunglasses." "I bet he was in an insane asylum or something." Etc., etc., etc. However, if you befriend him, he'll open up to you a little and tell you a bit about himself, he'll accept your social media stuff and you can browse his posts and he'll grant you access to his house, where his journals are. The backstory is there and it'll take a long time to learn, but the player has access to it. The world's backstory is given a brief explanation in the beginning. If you ask the characters in the game about the world, they'll tell you about it. The books found throughout the game, journals and the in-game internet all have information, as well. Again, it's there and it'd take a long time to get through, but the player has access to it.

 

Alternatively, like in my game series, Nightwatch Nightmares and Candy Crusade Chronicles, you can split it into many games. The original NN fanfic had too much to put into one game, so I split it into a 3-part series with an optional 4th game that provides backstory to one of the characters. CCC basically just follows a group of teens who hunt ghosts and whatnot. Again, it has a big story.

 

So, I guess, my best two pieces of advice are to have it so the player has access to the information, but it's not just spat out at them in a current of backstory, or to separate it into a series, each game holding a good chunk of the backstory. It really depends on the game, though. I mean, Nightwatch Nightmares, for example, has logical stopping points, as the story occurred in three specific years (and a lot more, if you include the backstory one). Aftermath: Gears of Hope, on the other hand, has no logical way to be stopped, then continued in another game. It really, really depends on the game.

 

I hope this helped, in some way. :)

Thanks for the advice! I really like the idea you had with that character. I think that I probably need to sit down and work out more pacing issues, but like others have said, I think that's more of a playtest sort of thing, too.

 

Props for Sans, btw.

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